I left school at 16 with barely any education. All I wanted to do was travel but I had no money. I got a trainee job at a bank which made me laugh because my dad was a professional bank robber. By the time I was 18 I’d had a few jobs. I was seeing this boy Murray and he was flying all over the place as a courier. You know, like a glorified postman. So I got a job doing that and thats how I got into modelling. I met a photographer on a plane, all my friends laughed and said I’d end up on page 3 of the Sun. But I followed it through and ended up travelling all over the world as a fashion model.
I met Mark my boyfriend on a train in Tokyo Japan. Mark was really into film and photography. He taught me how to use a camera. I started to photograph Mark and the friends we made while travelling. It was when we were in Milan living in a cheap pensione when I started to take photographs that meant something to me. These photographs had an intimacy and a sadness about them. There we were struggling to pay the rent, living in a dump, surrounded by glamorous magazines that were so far away from our own level of living. A photographer friend of mine Antony saw some of these photographs I had taken and suggested on my next trip home to London that I go and see Phil Bicker at The Face magazine. It was 1989 when I returned to London. I showed Phil the snapshots of Mark on holiday in Thailand and the photographs I had taken of girlfriends lying around bored and scruffy in Milan. Phil asked what did I think I could bring to the magazine? I asked him if there were any girl photographers working for The FACE? He said no.
I said give me a job then. I think he thought I was joking. I wasn’t. Phil asked me to take some fashion photographs and to work with a clothes stylist Malcolm Beckford who was a regular contributor to the FACE. I hadn’t lived in London for over 5 years and hardly knew anyone to photograph. So I made appointments at model agencies to meet girls without experience. I wanted to meet somebody who would bring themselves to the camera. Storm model agency showed me an out of focus polaroid of Kate Moss. I said I could not tell if she would be right and could I meet her. Sarah Doukas said she was a bit short to be a model and might only get some work for Boots chemist but I was welcome to meet her.
Kate was 15 years old. She was small for a model. Same height as me. And there was something familiar about her that made me feel comfortable. Thats why I chose to photograph her. The first photographs I took of Kate were in my Nan’s front garden. Nan had raised me from the age of 5 and this was the house I grew up in. Nan made us tea and sandwiches. We went to the park where I had hung out with my brother my whole life. The photographs were snapshots of nothing more than us hanging out in the suburbs where I grew up. The clothes Kate wore were simple V neck jumpers, Kickers from the Natural Shoe store and a bias cut John Galliano maxi skirt from Browns.
I took black and white photographs because I had little experience with colour. I showed six different photographs to Phil and he published one but not the one I liked. I liked the photograph of Kate walking down by the side of the motorway, she was blinking and looked pissed off. I suggested to Phil that Kate should be seen in the magazine more because the FACE looked like a Boys Own magazine. A couple of months later he commissioned me to photograph eight pages of fashion. The same week I was walking down Old Compton Street with a friend of mine who was telling me about a stylist named Melanie Ward who like me collected second hand clothes. That day by coincidence we saw Melanie on the same street. We went for coffee and talked about our common interests in second hand clothes. I asked Melanie if she would like to work with Kate and me for the FACE.
When I moved to London in 1990 Melanie and I became close friends. We went to the markets like Portobello and Camden and others every weekend. We shopped at second hand clothes shops like Glorious Clothing and Cornucopia. We worked very closely together.
Both of us being on the dole we shared the expense of buying clothes. I always bought clothes that I would wear myself. Music was our inspiration for the “Third Summer of Love” photographs that I took in 1990 for the FACE. Kate and I liked Nirvana, Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. These photographs were about Kate. I wanted to capture her presence, not so much mine. And I like the way that she was skinny. I was teased at school for being thin and clothes would never fit me when I was a model. In the 1980’s you had to wear loads of make-up. I didn’t like the fake poses and phony faces. I thought fashion photography came across all about the photographer instead of the person they photographed. Fashion magazines had been selling sex and glamour for far too long. I wanted to instill some reality into a world of fantasy.
I met Sarah murray at a bus stop on the Kings Road. She had just quit modelling and was talking about getting her job back at the fish and chip shop. We became good friends and eventually worked for Vogue magazine together and Barney’s department store in New York. Sarah wasnt like a typical looking model. It was hard for me to get advertisers and Vogue to recognise her beauty. In 1991 Sarah and I were swimming at Tootenbec Lido when this boy walked past. We argued who was going to ask for his number. George was a skinny 16 year old with long dark brown hair past his shoulders. We worked together for the FACE in 1992. George was holding an electric guitar that he couldn’t play. We are in a band together now and he plays guitar. I met Rosemary Ferguson around the same time in McDonalds. I thought Rose looked very androgynous. I found myself attracted to her in a way that I had never looked at a girl before. I photographed Rose in my flat which had a very badly beer stained carpet from the parties we had. I was broke still on the dole. I never thought about the commercial aspect of fashion photography. I was having too much of a good time. The photographs of George that were seen in “Englands Dreaming” for the FACE were taken in Georges flat and he wore his own clothes. They were nothing more than snapshots. There was no hair, make-up or stylist. This is how I started to photograph and this is how I wanted to carry on.
In 1993 Melanie and I went our separate ways. She thought I took my work too personally. She was right I did. Mel moved to America and never spoke to me again. My friendship with Kate also ended around the same time. I had taken some photographs of Kate for Vogue. These photographs upset her model agency and a whole bunch of other people in the press in England and America. Kate didn’t work with me for a long time after this. I thought these photographs were quite funny at the time. They certainly weren’t the kind of photographs normally seen in Vogue. I had photographed Kate in her own flat. I bought some underwear from Anne Summers sex shop on Brewer Street in Soho where Mark and I lived. I also bought some American tan tights and got Liza Bruce to copy some T-shirts of mine so we had some designer credits in the magazine. The photographs looked cheap and tacky everything that Vogue was not supposed to be. Kate had just had a fight with her boyfriend Mario Sorrenti who didn’t want her to work with me in her own flat that day so Kate was crying and a few of the photographs were naturally sad. I think the press took the photographs far too seriously reading a lot more into them than what was really there. Vogue stopped working with me after that.
By then Tara and I had become very good friends. I had met Tara through her boyfriend George and Tara also collected second hand clothes and it was around this time I started to photograph Tara. Of all the photographs I have ever taken these are some of my favourites. The owner of Ray Gun magazine Marvin Scott Jarrett came to visit me at home in Brewer Street. He asked Tara and I to contribute to his magazine. We had just met Georgina Cooper. I submitted three photographs of Georgina. In one she wore a black bat winged dress and in another she wore a 1980’s slaggy sort of dress and there was a Judas Priest T-shirt. When these photographs came out in Ray Gun Georgina called me and said thanks because people were noticing her now and giving her work. I was pleased for her because Georgina is a really genuine, kind person.
It was about this time in 1994 I met Andy Frank. I was on a train with Mark who had shot a video of Andy’s band “Pusherman”. Mark and I and Tara started going to their gigs. We made a lot of friends through Pusherman. It was a great time of music, festivals, drugs and parties. I met Jess Morris through Pusherman who used to go out with Martin the rhythm guitarist in the band. Jess worked for Vivienne Westwood. I went to a Vivienne Westwood shop opening party and thats where I met the editor of Penthouse magazine. He said Penthouse in the UK was about to change and would I come and work for him? I had no hesitation. I thought it was a great idea. Tara, Rosemary Ferguson and Andy and I drove to Wales for a few days. The editor of Penthouse liked the 1960’s style of photography that used to be in the magazine. I thought the magazine in the 1990’s looked pretty corny. So after I was commissioned I took very natural photographs of Rose, Tara and Andy. On the way home we had a car crash but no one was hurt. Andy was driving and we all suddenly realised he was still an active heroin user. Rose was very angry and I don’t blame her. The photographs were published but the editor and art director were both sacked and Penthouse reverted back to its old form.
I met Susie Babchick through Pusherman when Susie used to go out with Andy. Susie then became my agent and we began working together. Susie is from Texas so one day we came up with an idea for a road trip. Rose, Susie and Vinca Peterson and I went on holiday to Texas. We bought a 1972 Buick and took off with a suitcase full of clothes, mainly jeans and T-shirts. Rose and Vinca dressed themselves. We explored the Texas countryside and crossed the border into Mexico shooting in some places according to Susie were not safe to be in. It was all ok but on our way back to Texas going over the Mexico border we got busted for undeclared Valium. Somehow we managed to talk our way out of trouble. It was a really great holiday and I thought to myself if magazines could work like this they would look a lot different.
I remember going to the White Cube to see an exhibition of Nan Goldin’s work for the first time.
I met Nan there and to my astonishment and delight Nan had been an admirer of my work since the early Kate photographs. I first discovered Nan’s work in New York in 1992 when I was there meeting with Barney’s department store. Ronnie Cook took me to a photography book store and the first book I picked up was The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. At this time I had no knowledge of art photography only what I had seen in commercial magazines. I had already been conveying my own personal experiences through my photography in magazines. I wanted the ordinary person to see real life in those pages. I found Nan Goldin’s and Larry Clark’s work liberating and their work also validated the way I had started to take photographs myself.
Courtesy of the artist’s website.